Anthony Bourdain’s positive visit
There is a reason some West Virginians are suspicious and even wary of outsiders. Celebrity chef and Travel Channel star Anthony Bourdain understood that when he decided to visit the Mountain State, and thank goodness he did. The message he sent to the rest of the country after he was finished working on an episode of “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” was important and long overdue.
“I would never in my life dare, as a New Yorker, give advice to West Virginians. That’s what everybody’s been doing for 200 years and I don’t want to be that guy,” said Bourdain, from McDowell County.
What do you know? Seems like a simple enough concept. But he’s right. Very few others have understood it.
Bourdain appears to have been very honest about his own hangups — something else rare in those who generally seek to belittle what they don’t understand.
“I’m comfortable in places that are different, so, I didn’t admire the intolerance, the sort of resistance in myself, to this place in my own country. How come I’m so comfortable in Vietnam and Lebanon but instinctively, like so many other New Yorkers, see West Virginia as a whole other land?” he said.
Bourdain’s description of West Virginia as “beautiful country,” and of West Virginians as “genuinely hospitable, warm, straight-talkers with a dry sense of humor,” won’t surprise anyone who lives here. Nor will the response from those who refuse to believe him.
“I say I’m here and that I’m having an amazing time and I get a bunch of idiots from my side of the aisle (responding on social media) who have just kind of written off the place as a bunch of hillbillies down there. These same jokes you’ve been putting up with for 100 years. That makes me angry,” he said.
Bourdain didn’t try to paper over the Mountain State’s woes. In fact, those seem to have made him angry, too. Poverty, poor health, addiction, environmental concerns … but he made an important point that is ignored by far too many on the national stage. “They’re big city problems, too. Anyone who is looking down on West Virginia better check their own community because these problems are in no way unique to West Virginia,” he said.
What a New Yorker realized when he actually took the time to visit the most stricken parts of West Virginia was that “There aren’t a lot of places this beautiful left in the world,” and there’s a reason so many choose to stay, generation after generation, when the rest of the world is telling them there is nothing left for them here.
If would be nice to think the lessons Bourdain learned on his trip could filter through to some of the folks who are so convinced they know how to “fix” West Virginia.
Of course the show will not air until the spring; and who knows how different it will be from what Bourdain had to say immediately after his trip? But for now, it sounds as though Bourdain’s trip was good for him, and maybe even good for the Mountain State. Certainly it sounds as though we would welcome him back, any time.
Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org